Emma’s New String And A New School

Emma will be attending a new school this fall.  We were given a placement by the Department of Education mid June that was not over an hour from our home. This new school seems to understand the concept of sensory issues and needs, or at least they’ve heard of the idea and appear willing to consider that this is important to Emma.  They seem interested in my desire to be involved.  We will be working together on a transition.  I plan to meet with her new teachers and the assistant principal.  I will photograph all of them as well as the interior and exterior of the school to put in a book that Emma can look at prior to her first day.

The school has a large gymnasium and a huge auditorium with a stage.  There’s a roof playground and a little area filled with books.  It’s a special education school within a larger “regular” public school.  They seem interested in having Emma do at least some things, like PE, with the kids from the larger school, so she’s not completely segregated out.  It’s by no means ideal, but we have yet to visit a school, private or public, that is.

I took Emma to visit the school in July.  She was anxious, kept saying, “No, I don’t like the new school.  I don’t want to go to new school.”  We talked about how new things are scary.  I told her that at this school she would be able to go swimming in the pool across the street once a week and that there would be new teachers and children.  I could see how anxious she was, just visiting.  I felt the tightness in my heart and stomach.  That feeling hasn’t left me.  I am as frightened as Emma.  This is a big change.  It is an enormous question mark.  Emma has been dealing with her anxiety by saying goodbye to all her old teachers and classmates.  “Lauren is gone.  Charlie is gone.  Soufien is gone.  Rachel J. is gone…” Emma will go through the lengthy list and then always ends with, “Emma goes to a new school!”  I’ve asked her whether she’d like to visit her old school to say goodbye, she is adamant that she does not.  I’ve asked if she’d like to see some of her old friends, she has shaken her head no.

Emma has a new string that she loves.  I’ve written about her string before.  Unlike her scrap of blanket (cokie) which works like a sedative and makes her sleepy, her string seems to help her focus.  She twirls it or will hold it in her hand as she runs, jumps on the trampoline and plays.  Since we’ve been in Aspen she has lost her string three times now, leading to shrieks of terror and screams of “You lost it.  You cannot throw it.  Have to look.  Mommy!  I need help!”  And then tears.  Lots of terrified crying.  Each time we’ve turned the house upside down and eventually found it, but it’s been traumatic for all of us.  This last time it went missing, Richard and I began to think we’d have to place limits on it to ensure it didn’t get lost.  A couple of friends suggested alternate strings, a kind of backup string.  So I asked Em if she’d like to find an “outdoor” string.  She easily chose a long piece of purple ribbon.  She cheerfully took it out with her when we went for our morning ride on the 4-wheeler yesterday.

It occurred to me then that she could have a number of alternate strings.  I thought about her new school and realized she could have a special “school” string too.  I asked her if she liked this idea and she nodded her head vigorously.  “How about a school string and a Saturday string, a back up string and we can find another indoor string,” I said.  “Yes!” Emma replied, clasping her new purple string in her hand as she got on the 4-wheeler.

At her old school several years ago one of her teachers introduced a school “cokie” to detrimental effect.  Emma would sit in the corner with her scrap zoning out.  Over the years her various teachers tried to curtail her use, put limits on her cokie, but nothing they did worked.  Every few months I would get a call from her teacher describing melt downs, her inability to attend, her desire to have it with her all the time.  Each time my heart ached for her as I put the phone down knowing I’d been unable to help alleviate the situation.  At her new school we are hoping by providing her with a school string some of her anxiety may be mitigated. I am hoping she does not latch on to a “school cokie” I am praying some well-meaning teacher does not introduce her to one.  We will see.  In the meantime if any of you have suggestions about how to help us help her with this transition – let loose!

Emma’s Cokie

Emma’s old string

Emma’s new string

Emma’s purple string

23 responses to “Emma’s New String And A New School

  1. This is so hard. Last year we had the opportunity to switch K’s school, and she overheard me talking to my husband about it and freaked out. She couldn’t handle the thought of being in different building. The program wouldn’t have been different, so we just kept her where she was. Crisis averted. But, I fear what will happen if she ever does move to a diff school with a diff program, or what happens when we move to the middle school? She likes everything to just remain the same. Heck, last week she somehow lost her goggles at camp (an old pair of mine) and I had to spend $20 for a new pair bc they had to be the same, and it seemed a small price to pay to end the meltdown in the middle of the sports store (even though there were many glittery, girly, CHEAPER goggles to choose from…) Big changes are tough. I think having different strings for different places, where they can stay, is good. The less traveling a string does, the better. I like the idea…I wonder if having something like that would lessen my girl’s anxiety. Although, yeah, the fear of a lost string might hold me back…

  2. I so understand this as a mother and a sister as I would watch my brother have a horrible time with change and new beginnings growing up. I think the more you can introduce her to the school in short, small sessions the better. So in other words take her there everyday before school starts if possible for interval visits inside and out. They do not have to be long at all just exposure is the key. The pictures will be excellent, but she craves routine is my guess. With that said make sure her morning routine is as close to the same every single morning for the first month more then any other time, it has to be predictable to her or the anxiety will rise, convey this need to her teachers. She needs to come in during the morning there and have her ribbon and be able to touch it the first 10 minutes she is there no matter what, if they don’t understand this need then a red flag needs to go off. She will transition but yes, it won’t come easily and carefree, it has to be designed for routine, routine. We do this with children not on the spectrum for the very same reason, ALL children CRAVE structure in new places. Stay strong, deep breath and know she is growing!!

  3. Check Karla’s ASD Page on Facebook. This topic is being discussed now.
    Ann G

  4. repetition is the best thing we’ve found to curb the anxiety of change. My son isn’t switching schools this year for the first time since he was 2, but it’s a new teacher, class so he has a lot of anxiety. We go up to the school A LOT. We hang out and play games, play on the playground, have picnics. We ask the custodian lengthy questions about what he is doing. His new teacher has come in and met with us a few times and talked to him about how the classroom will look when he gets there and what the daily schedule will be. we have her picture hanging up on a wall in our house and say hi to it everyday. Charlie expresses his anxiety through a lot of what if questions. So, “What if none of the kids like me?” What if they have to change the room before school starts?” “What if so and so who i don’t like is in my class?” “What if the bus never shows up?” he didn’t seem to respond to me assuring him those things wouldn’t happen, but he does respond to me flipping it and saying “what if you didn’t go and missed meeting a friend who likes bugs?” or “what if the room does change and it’s a better room?” so, repetition of associating positives with changes, like you did with the pool. best of luck to you all with the transition!

  5. This is a great idea. Turning the repetitive questions around. I think I can do that with her list of goodbyes. Maybe by saying something like Hello to the new teacher, hello to new kids, etc. will think about the phrasing.

  6. This is a toughy……I think you have some great ideas already! I think the more familiar she can become with it, the better. I too am feeling myself start to get anxious as I know school is just a couple of weeks away. I am fortunate in that Brett has beeen at the same school since he was 3 but every year, no matter how hard we try, I know little issues will arise. I pray every day taking him there that no BIG issues arise. I know the teachers and aides are great with him but I fear the day that he digs his feet in the ground and refuses to go in etc….he is very capable of that because anxiety is a big issue for him but bless his heart, he has always just went with the program for the most part! For that, I am VERY grateful. We continue to take him and play on the play yard during the summer. Once I know too that the teachers are there, I will take him to see his rooms etc…They have a “Meet Your Teacher” night too and that seems to help him become aware that it is near time to start. This year, he is making that huge leap from K, fun world, to 1st grade where it isn’t as much fun and games. That makes me nervous too. We have his day FULL of things which he will either enjoy or not enjoy. We will find out! 🙂 He has a hard time spending too much time on one task so he is going to be out and about more and spending time in other rooms too etc….Not sure of this plan but we have to start somewhere I guess. For the most part, he is going to be with his own first grade class. The kids are AWESOME with him and that warms my heart. They actually argue over him at times which just makes me so happy! :O) LOL! My best advice to you is just to take it one day at a time…small steps and try try try not to focus on all the “what ifs” :O) I do that so much but he has always proved my worries to be needless. I remind my self too, always, that it is what it is and we will cross the bridges as we come to them. The journey between the bridges can be very rewarding as well! 🙂 You have all of her best interests at heart and I agree, if the teachers are not for her string or for your help, that should be a red flag. Brett had his “special bag” of brett stuff for 3 years at school before he just didn’t need it anymore. They were fine with it. Emma’s string should be no problem!! We will all be thinking of each other as it can be a very anxious time of the year….back to school! 🙂

  7. Had a thought… she was so excited about making a new string for school and that’s an action, that’s doing, and I thought about how when we take action, some action, any action, it tends to alleviate our stress, our concerns, because it busies (sp?) the brain. Are there actions she can be taking to get ready for school in addition to making the string? Can she help you make the book with pictures of the school? If she can take ownership in the project, in the change, in the preparation for change, maybe that might help.

    Just a thought.

    • hmmm… great idea. Love that. I think I will have her help and will start thinking of other things she can do. Maybe pick out a new book bag or a new outfit for school. I used to love doing that with Mom. Made it all very exciting!

  8. p.s. Not only does action busy the brain it also helps us feel more in control. A sense of control over a situation can also be calming.

  9. Could you take her to make a new string at the playground of the school or something so then the string she loves and has a positive association with has a fairly positive association too? Or is the string already made?

    I wondered about one thing as far as integrating goes. I don’t know how Emma does on a sensory level but while schools often want to integrate for the non-academic subjects those can be the worst if sensory issues are bad. The horrors of voices bouncing around in a too big gym, the unpredictable notes hit in music, the low quality paper or various supplies in art (depending on what her issues were) I have an article I wrote years ago on the horrors of kindergarten and sensory issues in general.

    Part of the problem with the non academic things is they are the least structured as well. Whatever they integrate her in should i think be something she enjoys and won’t have an issue with coping with (perhaps the pool first if she is okay with swimming in an indoor pool etc…)

    If I ever find my scanner I will one day get what I wrote years ago on one of those horrible sites that paid you if people read you scanned and updated. Some if it might be useful.

    For me school was something to endure mostly. Even when I escaped the horrors of kindergarten (after the teacher suggested I was so asocial and lacking in play skills and probably retarded that my father had a fit) my school never knew what to do with me. After grade four I had the opposite sort of integration problem as I had tested off the chart in terms of academics in grade 3 so I would be sent to the library for every academic class to amuse myself after the first ten minutes or so of a new unit. This made things worse as I read the encyclopedia but it also made things much worse for me socially. It would have been better to just privately instruct me to read at my desk or something as how it worked out I wound up in the class only when they were my absolute worst kinds.

    In Canada we have an act about if a school district can’t appropriately educate you they need to pay the full cost of educating you elsewhere so my schools were very keen to ship me off once i got to an age where they thought I could handle that but my father kept refusing. It would have been better for me overall and I could have had a first class, private school education paid for (other private citizens made the same offer too) but of course that’s not an option for Emma.

    As far as getting ready goes beyond maybe making the string there as much exposure to the the place and the routine should help. It seems from other times that you worried about the new kid part of thing that Emma actually tends to come out on top of most social situations so hoping that the children in her new school are as accepting as some you have described in various encounters.

    One thing about preparation that you might want to explore with Emma is the degree it helps. I know sometimes for me too much preparation becomes a source of stress in itself as at some point it starts feeding the anxiety rather then alleviating it. Whatever you do if you can get her to express a bit if it is helping or increasing her anxiety (like I wouldn’t want a picture of a new place prominently on display for a long time before I went there) would be good.

    My sister in law is usually pretty good about preparing me for changes so sometimes I feel it’s a little ridiculous at my end that she thinks pictures of the guest room or their new car are helpful but when I get them I only look at them for a bit even they do help. If I got too focused on the change rather than the aspects I like about being there it would make things worse.

    The people at my new synagogue are nice but can’t quite get it into their heads that if they say so and so and I are going to dinner before service why don’t you join us and I walk in to find most of the congregation this will put me in a tail spin even though I like all of them. One day.

    I think Emma will be okay fairly soon into this. She has you which is a big advantage and it sounds like the school will work with you rather than against you.

    • Hi Gareeth,
      Em is sensory seeking more than the other. Though there are some things that eventually overwhelm her if she’s in them too long, like roller coasters. But parties, large gatherings of people, loud noise, loud music, all of that is right up her alley. She gravitates toward those kinds of things. She loves being up on a stage and will grab a microphone if she can find one and start belting out songs and dancing. She’s very much a performer.

      Your thought about how much preparation is needed and can it go too far, is a good one. I have seen this with Emma. Sometimes she will become more fearful and agitated with too much preparation, visuals etc. Her teacher from her old school put together a photo book for her with all the kids in her old class saying good bye to her and she looked at it once, quickly and then tossed it aside. She hasn’t looked at it again, despite the fact it is sitting out where she sees it every morning. I will be cautious and not overdo.

      By the way, we also have that same law about an appropriate education. This was how Em was in the private school she was in for so many years. Sadly they were teaching her very little, which is why we are making this switch.
      It’s good to hear from you!

  10. Ooooh. The new school thing. So much anxiety. I know the feeling. The only consolation I had changing schools so much when I was a kid was that I got to leave schools I hated. Only once was I sad to leave a school. But I still had lots of anxiety about the new school. I don’t really have any advice, but I do have information about that. Anxiety like that is caused by several things. Mostly fear of the unknown. What will it be like there? Will there be mean people there? What if the building gets too cold, or too hot, or too noisy? What if it smells musty in there? What if the gymnasium is really loud? What if I don’t like the bathrooms? What if the lights are too bright, or they flicker? What if I don’t like the food they have? What if I don’t like the activities? What if my chair is uncomfortable, or rocks on two legs? What if my desk squeaks? What the desk next to mine squeaks? These might seem like silly things to wonder about, but people with sensory issues who have special interests and obsessions to cater to and are often perceived as socially awkward have had to deal with so many uncomfortable situations so many times that leaving home for any reason will usually cause anxiety. It still causes me anxiety. That is why it takes me so long to prepare to go anywhere, especially if I am leaving for days, or just overnight. Because I have to quadruple check to make sure I am prepared for any situation that might come up while I am gone.

  11. Just thought of another suggestion, my daughters school asks us to bring a photo to school of her family up until 3rd grade-would help her to see your familiar faces maybe?

  12. If Emma is sensory seeking does she have something that communicates that she is on the verge of it being too much? I am sensory seeking for things that are not sound and light oriented. I could ride a roller coaster 100 times but put me in a loud gym with flashy lights and I am toast. It would be good if you could communicate to her teachers whatever it is that happens when she is getting close to having had too much.

    As far as the fear of the unknown goes for me the familiar unknown is the hardest. That is a situation much like other situations but changed. So a new school or a new living situation would be much harder than something I had never experienced at all and thus could have no anxiety at the ready about it. Having had a pretty catastrophic collapse over having to move this year that I am still reeling from the whole change topic is hard right now. I sometimes suspect it will be years until I recover from this year and I suppose those Intense World people would not be surprised by that.

    I keep hoping change and new situations and new people will be easier one day but since more than half my life is probably over now I guess that’s probably just what I tell myself to carry on. That’s part of the problem with considering it a delay versus a difference as delay carries the expectation that somehow you catch up one day.

  13. Pingback: Belly Go Bang-Bang | Emma's Hope Book

  14. We have used ribbons for Son1 to help alleviate his anxieties at school. His teachers have attached them under his desk so that he can twiddle with them subtlety under the table, so it’s not too overt in front of his peers. This worked really well, not only in managing his anxieties but also with his concentration.

    I’m also aware of parents who have sewn ribbons into trouser / skirt pockets – again so that anxious children can use them in school.

    All of this is done in conjunction with the school as we all know that sometimes these strategies can be more distracting than helpful. It needs to work within the school environment, with buy in from everyone. I can’t tell you how many fiddle boxes we have sent into school to sit on the teacher’s desk!

    Good luck with your transition.

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